No. 15 Mizzou vs Iowa St with Big 12 hopes on line
Iowa State's 31-30 overtime loss to Nebraska - after Daniel Kuehl's fluttering two-point conversion pass was picked off - loomed large the moment it happened.
For the Cyclones and No. 15 Missouri, it's even bigger now.
The Tigers went on to lose to Texas Tech later that night, giving Nebraska a stranglehold on the Big 12 North title.
Missouri (8-2, 4-2 Big 12) needs a victory over Iowa State on Saturday and a loss by the Huskers to keep its slim hopes for a spot in the final Big 12 title game alive. The Cyclones (5-6, 3-4) need to beat the Tigers in their season finale to become bowl eligible.
''It's do or die. There's no other way to put it. We have to win to get number six,'' Iowa State safety Michael O'Connell said. ''We know that's out there. It's just the position we've put ourselves in.''
Missouri has no concerns about getting to a bowl. It's all about what kind of bid the Tigers can land, and they're back on good footing after a solid win over Kansas State last week.
Missouri's promising 7-0 start was wiped out by a 31-17 loss at Nebraska and that 24-17 loss at Texas Tech. But the Tigers defense, which has been a pleasant surprise for much of the season, rebounded with four takeaways against the Wildcats as Missouri built an insurmountable 38-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers did let up a pair of late touchdowns, though, which coach Gary Pinkel has undoubtedly used to keep the Tigers on their toes.
''We had a 24 point lead and I thought we lost our focus, and that just tells the story that obviously I'm not coaching well enough and we aren't mature enough yet,'' Pinkel said. ''It's a work in progress to become a better football team.''
For Iowa State, getting back to a bowl would be a major accomplishment for a program trying to become a consistent Big 12 contender, especially since four of their losses came against Iowa, Utah, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
That became a lot tougher after last week's loss to Colorado, which included a season-ending injury to senior quarterback and team leader Austen Arnaud. He will need complete knee reconstruction and his college career is over.
Sophomore backup Jerome Tiller will make his third career start in place of Arnaud.
Tiller's got speed, but his passing remains suspect at best. Tiller threw for just 87 yards in a 27-0 win over Northern Iowa in September with Arnaud out for all but the first series, and he has just two TD passes against four picks in 124 career attempts.
''I'd want to get after him. I'd want to make him have to make decisions. I'd want to do that aggressively. You've got a guy that's not used to sitting back there in the pocket letting things unfold,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said of what Missouri might plan for Tiller. ''Secondly, I'd be worried about if ... when he tucks the ball away and runs, that I'll be able to get him down or he's going to be able to create things.''
Though the North crown seems like a long shot, Missouri still has a lot it can accomplish.
The Tigers can become just the sixth team in school history to pick up nine wins by beating Iowa State. They end the regular season against woeful Kansas, so a third 10-win season in four years looks plausible.
Iowa State figures to be a charged-up bunch, though, with a bowl bid on the line and a strong desire not to let Arnaud's career end with a losing season.
The Tigers faced a similar situation in Ames in 2006.
Dan McCarney had been forced out as coach a week-and-a-half earlier, but a Cyclones team worse than this year's unit stunned the Tigers 21-16.
''It's a trap game. Any time you go on the road in the Big 12 I think it's pretty scary,'' Missouri wide receiver T.J. Moe said. ''They're playing with a little bit of a chip on the shoulder right now. They lost their QB last week. Everyone is going to be rallying around the new guy.''